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Imagery is the act of forming mental images, the likeness or figures of things in the literature. It uses the language to describe persons, actions, objects, and ideas that encompasses senses, in addition to the formation of, mental images. In most cases, imagery is used to bring out an abstract idea that a concrete object stands for, apart from its literal meaning. The authors have widely used different forms of imagery, which include the nature and party imagery, which have contributed to the advancement of the theme of Spiritual Emptiness, among the characters. Most of them feel empty due to the lack of freedom and dissatisfaction with the way of other characters is seen.
Imagery on the Wasteland
Throughout the novel, the settings and places depict the nature of the 1920s American society. The behaviours and the lifestyle of these characters represent irresponsibility and spiritual emptiness. This in essence makes the place they inhabit a waste land. The imagery of,”...the valley of ashes...” (Page 22) represents the social, as well as the moral degradation that has been characteristic of the American people, resulting from the unrealistic pursuit for material wealth and pleasure. It consists of a long stretch of isolated land created by the dumping of industrial ashes. The rich indulge in their own pleasure disregarding the plight of the poor. The imagery also symbolizes the plight of the poor who inhabit these isolated places making them lose their vitality. All these places are represented in a bad light, because of the behaviour of the characters that inhabit them and lack moral uprightness. The eggs, both west and east eggs, represent the dramatic places where the characters live. Just like a rotten egg, they can be described as pure on the outside but rotten inside. The east egg is imagery for the old money while the west egg is the imagery of new money
The shore has been used in the poem as the imagery to symbolize life as well as death. Eliot draws from the traditional significance of water that traditionally represented Christianity and the figure of Jesus Christ. As he walks along the shore, Prufrock’s attention is caught by the seductive voices of mermaids. However, he realizes that danger that lies behind the calls. The poem is summarized with a drowning caution (line 131). This caution warns against the dismissing situations as having simple solutions, since their ending could be disastrous. His use of water in the metaphor, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas...,” makes him alike a crab that does not move forward and wishes that he has not had such a complex mind (line 74). He terms the world as complex and views the ones with simple minds as the best adapted creatures. The narrow streets are used to denote the hopeless nature of the inhabitants. He says, “Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets...” (Line 70). The lifestyle of these people represents spiritual emptiness in them.
The lines 15-22 of the poem, “…yellow fog…yellow smoke…”, are used to represent a cat as it licks with its tongue, curls up and leaps. Green is the most commonly used colour in the book and symbolizes the affluence and Gatsby’s dream that seems to be unattainable. Water imagery is used in The Great Gatsby to emphasize hopelessness and sadness of the events that characterize Gatsby’s life and death. The images of restriction closely denote how the society norms force the one to act according to what the community desires, even though this act conflicts with their individual desires. Indeed, the poet describes, “...My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, /my necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin...” (Line 44). This is where the clothes of the middle class society confines Prufrock to the point of being forced to wear them against his will. Eliot also uses colour to represent his ideas and living creatures.
Fitzgerald uses the image of a doctor T. J. Eckelburg’s in the billboard to denote a godlike being. The doctor’s eyes do not only symbolize godliness in the being but also show Fitzerland’s negative opinion of the 1920s society. Wilson notes, “...God sees everything…” while conversing with Michaelis about Myrtle’s, his wife, whom he was accusing of infidelity (p.167). Wilson is sure that the doctor’s eyes can see all things involving the lies of his wife. The author explains that, Myrtle is an ordinary female of the 1920s, who has opted for her own desires to be in front of her husband’s and everybody else’s. The author uses the imagery of colours in the book to symbolize different atmospheres as the scenes change. White is a clean and fresh colour, but the author uses it to show how a bright idea can be tainted, as well. The use of yellow illustrates the downfall of moral principles among the people of West Egg.
According to Fitzgerald, the wastefulness of the people who lived in the 1920s is demonstrated by his description of the colossal food buffet served at the party. He notes that,
“...On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold…Every Friday, five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York-ever. On Monday, these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulp less halves...” (p. 44).
The use of the expensive food varieties is imagery symbolic of the affluence nature of characters. The discarding of food, as witnessed by the narrator, is a demonstration of people who cannot share with the less privileged ones. This is against the teachings and practices of any religious grouping. The use of colour imagery, according to the author, helps to bring out the self-centeredness and egocentric nature of the society. The description of two women, identically dressed in yellow, at Gatsby’s party, represents the nature of the people of the 1920s. They do not care about the spiritual fulfilment as Filtzerland suggests. Their motivation in life is to enjoy themselves at any cost. One of them, with the name Lucille, confesses, “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time…” (p.47). The ease, with which they give in to relationships, is also shown when Lucille brags about how she received the love gifts, from a man she had met once in the party. The immorality character indicated is contrary to religious teachings.
In the poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Eliot vastly uses imagery to represent some fantasy feelings of his characters. The title of the poem, which suggests the potential happiness in life, is down played with the use of imagery of hell that parallels Prufrock’s inner hell to the lack of love and isolation. Spiritual Emptiness is denoted whereby the poet uses the Biblical images to represent situations in the opposite meaning. The spiritual derivation depicted is widely represented in the poem with such imagery phrases like “…head brought in upon a platter…” (Line 82). This is associated with the Biblical John, the Baptist, who prophesied the birth of the Messiah. Unlike John, the narrator is afraid he may succumb to a sad ending as denoted in the metaphorical phrase “…evening….floor…” (Lines 75-78). In line 94, he alludes that, “I am Lazarus, come from the dead…”, while referring to his strategy of creating a connection with one of the women. The author uses religious excerpts to show that the characters are knowledgeable in religion but do not adhere to its rules. This is an act of immorality, while with the character of Lazarus he is trying to portray the opposite thing. According to Eliot, Spiritual Emptiness has resulted from the modern society losing the belief that gives the clear moral code according to which to live. Most of the characters prefer to live upon those behaviours that bring joy to their lives, however, immoral.
Imagery is widely used in the book and in the poem to clearly illustrate and explain the various themes that the two works are aimed at bringing out, especially the spiritual emptiness. The use of images instils imaginative skills to the readers, making them understand better the literary works. The images demonstrate what characters feel after experiencing the immoral nature of their fellow humankind. The two works of literature denote the state of moral decadence in the society, which has occurred because of the pronounced changes occurring in the society. This has undermined the religious beliefs leaving people with a feeling that the traditional beliefs are no longer relevant.